Monday, January 9, 2012

Always the Bad Guy

I was watching a TV show recently, one of the cops and crooks things, and the good guys were trying to figure out who dunnit.  As soon as a clue led them to a state senator, I knew who the offender would be. It's always the politician.  It's so easy to paint just about any part of the government as someone looking out for their own personal interest instead of the welfare of the people they're sworn to serve.

It happens in books also. The leaders in the government are seldom portrayed as anything other than self-serving, arrogant and without ethics or morals.  This holds true in most genres of fiction, contemporary, fantasy, scifi or historical and perhaps especially dystopian. Why?

There's probably lots of answers to that but I think today's economical and political climate allows for the easy acceptance to the possible reality of our own government being the cause of all our misery. Corruption and greed make for some great conflicts in a novel.  In fantasy, a little magic is usually added to complicate the battle of good citizens versus bad rulers. 

So do you see the theme of the government as bad guys in lots and lots of novels and other entertainment media? Do you have a theory as to why it's so widely used as the conflict in fiction?

17 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sadly because for the most part, it's true.

Stephen Tremp said...

I do not use the government per se, although I do use top officials as using their respective governments to run their dirty evil empires.

M.J. Fifield said...

Yes, I see that theme a lot of places. And kind of use it in my own novel.

I agree with what Alex said, that it's sadly true. There aren't too any exceptions, I don't think.

Jay Noel said...

It's weird, because Hollywood is dominated by Liberals. And Liberals love big government. So it makes no sense to me.

I think since our mistrust of government and politics is as old as time itself, they make great villains.

Just read some Shakespeare (i.e. Julius Caesar), politicians have been antagonists since ancient times.

Theresa Milstein said...

It's widely used because it happens so often. And they're supposed to be our representatives representing our interests.

I heard this interesting story about the birth control movement on NPR in December. It used to be a Eugenics thing - keep the poor and "wrong" ethnic groups from procreating. Then it turned into a middle-class Republican women's cause. But when abortion came into the discussion, someone told Nixon he could divide the Democrats by being against abortion. I found it so odd that something that is a moral crusade for many was a strategy--a tool for politics.

If politicians want to stop being portrayed as the antagonists, they should stop being them in such large numbers.

Christine Rains said...

I think that government is made the bad guy because they have power over people. The hero in the story is the little guy and these days, a lot of feel like the little guy.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

It's kind of sad that we're all able to agree and relate to this especially when our current government is elected.

The Golden Eagle said...

I do. And I agree--it's probably the current political/economic climate.

L.G.Smith said...

Ha! Yes, it is common, perhaps even required, in dystopian fiction. I have a corrupt group in charge of the government at the beginning of my novel. They're tyrants that must be ousted!!! Hey, it makes for clear understandable conflict with big stakes. I hope. :)

LD Masterson said...

Because we want to root for the underdog and we see the government as on top.

Talli Roland said...

It's probably natural that we want to rail against those in power! Interesting question.

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Perhaps because art imitates life. From our first paragraphs at school we're told to write what we know. Anyone living today knows of corrupt politics.

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I see it quite often. I think it comes about because, historically, it's almost always been the case. Those with power have gained and maintained it for their own interests (I believe it comes from the ancient Roman ideal of personal glory above all else) so they'd step on whoever's toes to make themselves somebody.

I'd like to see a story where the antagonist acted more like the Roman plebian tribunes, who were still after personal glory and power but used the best interests and welfare of the people in which to achieve it, making them the 'good guy' for most of the story.

Murr Brewster said...

You just made me realize that in the novel I'm working on I'll have to find at least one guy in the coal industry who is sympathetic, or my conflict will be too predictable. Maybe I can work in a noble government worker too.

Cate Masters said...

Having worked a highly political job, I'd have to say that despite their best intentions in the beginning, most elected officials fall victim to the political machine at some point. It seems inevitable.
I'm also tired of the crime shows where the team rescues the victim at the last possible second. Some shows like Criminal Minds do this all too often, and while the opposite outcome would be gruesome, the writers need to find a way to mix it up!

Ava Quinn said...

Hi! My name's Devil's Advocate. (Hi, Devil's Advocate.) I think sometimes if a person hasn't worked the job, there isn't a true understanding of what's involved. But because we have a say in our government, many people think they know the whole story.

When I was a teacher (for 10 years), many parents came to me with the belief that they understood public education just because they went through the school system. Things are very different on the other side of the desk.

Now, it's true that it definitely feels like art imitating life with all the stories of corrupt officials splashing the headlines, but, then again, think of the source. Media wants to sell its media. (That's a conspiracy theory for another day.)

I feel like corrupt government stories are becoming at best a cliche, at worst an easy out for creating a villain. Lots of times I find the types of shows that feature a political bad guy a little lazy.

Pk Hrezo said...

Hi! New follower here!
I think it's so easy to portray cuz its so close to home. There is TONS of corruption in govt, which is what makes 3rd world countries the way they are often times. Somthing about power changes people into self-serving egotists.